SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 18, 2012

Salem schools have 'stopped the downward slide'

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — With results of a high-stakes standardized test set to be released tomorrow, Salem school officials are hopeful the worst is behind them.

“We have at least stopped the downward slide,” School Superintendent Stephen Russell said last night before the start of a School Committee meeting.

Russell said he does not believe any city schools will drop to Level 4 status, a state designation for an under-performing school facing a possible state takeover based on three years of poor results in the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test.

A year ago, Bentley Elementary School was named one of six new Level 4 schools in Massachusetts after the release of the 2011 MCAS results. At the same time, four other city schools — Salem High, Collins Middle School, Nathaniel Bowditch and Carlton — teetered on the brink of Level 4 status, according to local officials.

None of those schools is expected to be designated Level 4 based on the school and district MCAS results to be announced on Wednesday. Overall state results, which showed solid improvement, were released yesterday.

“As far as I understand, there are no more (Level 4 schools) identified,” Russell said.

However, Russell cautioned that several schools had low scores on the 2012 test and fall near the bottom of state rankings.

At the same time, the superintendent stressed that these latest MCAS results do not reflect the dramatic turnaround that began this month with the start of a new school year.

Bentley and Carlton schools, for example, have been almost completely revamped. Bentley has a longer school day with large blocks of time devoted to math and English/language arts, while Carlton is one of the state’s heralded “innovation schools” with multi-age classrooms that allow students to move to the next grade level whenever they’re ready.

Turnaround efforts have begun at every school, officials say.

Assistant principals have been added at elementary schools. The city was awarded a $1.5 million redesign grant. The school system is working with consultants to assess each student four times a year and to work with teachers to help struggling students achieve. There are also new programs for students just learning English.

School officials are hopeful there will be measurable signs of progress by mid-year, or about the time of the second round of assessments.

“It does seem as if a lot has been happening,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said at last night’s school board meeting. “Things are under way.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.